Skip to main content.
Open today 10 am – 5 pm

Elmina Bioarchaeological Project

Curatorial Section


Research Discipline

Biomolecular Archaeology


2008 - 2012

Expand Global Research

Over more than a century, we’ve opened up endless exploration across six continents. New field work endowments will ensure our continued leadership in national and international field research and discovery.

Give Now

The Elmina Bioarchaeological Project focuses on of the most important archaeological sites in Africa and spans the period of European contact, trade, and colonization.

Location Information

Elmina is located in coastal southern Ghana.

Time Period Studied

The Elmina Bioarchaeological Project examines skeletal material from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

  • Emily S. Renschler, University of Pennsylvania
  • Christopher R. DeCorse, Syracuse University
Project Overview

This project is a bioarchaeological study of the human skeletal material excavated from the Elmina archaeological site. Located in coastal Ghana, Elmina has been the focus of intensive archaeological research by Christopher DeCorse (Syracuse University) and colleagues and is widely considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Africa. The site spans the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries—a time period that includes the first European contact with the Portuguese in 1482 and the subsequent growth of the town into one of the largest trading posts in all of Africa. During these four centuries, the town grew from a small African fishing and farming settlement of only a few hundred inhabitants into a major trading port with a population of 15,000-20,000 Africans and Europeans.

This project is the first comprehensive bioarchaeological analysis of the skeletal remains of the approximately 200 individuals excavated from the Elmina site, most of whom represent the inhabitants of the African settlement through the period of European contact, trade, and colonization (DeCorse, 2001). This study focuses on the biological impact of the cultural transformations that accompanied European contact and the consequences of the slave trade upon African populations. Examination of the remains of some of the inhabitants of Elmina during this period of intense cultural transformation offers insight into what their everyday lives were like. This perspective is missing from much of the historical record which is heavily reliant upon contemporary European narratives.

Osteological, stable isotope, and ancient DNA analyses are being employed to explore the health, identities, and lifeways of the individuals represented by the skeletal sample. As a multidisciplinary bioarchaeological project, this study integrates biological data with archaeological, historical, and oral historical information. Ultimately, the results of this project will be of importance to not only the scholarly community but to the general public who seek to better understand this important part of the history of the Diaspora.


Research Access to the Collections

The Penn Museum welcomes and encourages researchers to make use of its collections, including objects from all over the world, as well as extensive photographic, film, and document archives.

Find Out How